by Tiffany Mathews, Guest Contributor
When he came home for Christmas exodus during basic training, all his relatives wanted to see him in his military uniform. As his best friend, I got the pleasure of driving him around, listening to him mumble under his breath about not wanting attention.
It has been 10 years since then and while he has traded in the digi-camo for hunting gear, his allegiance to his military uniform has developed to a whole new level.
Sometimes I have trouble reconciling the boy who literally hid from people when he was wearing his uniform with the man who lights up when he talks about his deployment. It has been 8 years since his deployment, 4 since he was honorably discharged and this is the first year I feel like I have been getting close to honoring the man who came home.
Ironically it started with a different form of camouflage. He went bow hunting in high school and owned his shot gun and rifle well before we started dating.
He recently gave up his guns due to financial constraints and because we became foster parents, a role which makes gun usage difficult, if not impossible.
This year, I told him he needed to bring it back. He needed to put the camo back on. Some days, I know he wishes for the digi-camo and to be supporting his brothers and sisters in arms. Hunting is not the same as serving in the National Guard, but both activities speak to the heart of who he is.
He put in for an elk hunt in March. May approached. His excitement and eagerness to check the web site to find out if he had been drawn for the hunt were evident.
May also brought another event that I am never quite sure how to honor.
There are so many people who deserve honor on this day that to even begin to do something meaningful seems like a Herculean task.
However, with hunting bringing back some of my husband’s personality, I knew I needed to do something to recognize what the day means to him. For the first time, I suggested taking whirligigs to put on the graves of a few of the men he had served with who are buried at the local National Veterans Memorial Cemetery.
A small token for a big gesture, but it was something.
We took our children and taught them what paying respect looks like.
Sometimes it cannot be grandiose.
Sometimes it is in the quiet breath you take and the prayer you breathe out, standing at a gravesite.
Sometimes it is shaking the hand of your fellow soldier’s grown daughter and telling his grandkids that he was a wonderful man.
I got to sit back and watch my husband do that. And like with all the things that truly matter to us, it lit him up inside.
He got the notification that he has been drawn to hunt elk this December in June. Since that day, he spends much of his free time researching what he will need. He is talking about going to buy camo. When he talks about camo, his soul glows.
Last night, we got rained out in an Arizona monsoon while trying to camp. He was obviously disappointed. The friend we brought with us started asking him about his deployment. He talked about the things he saw while he was in Iraq. He mentioned the 2 grenades that were thrown at his squad that did not blow up, for no reason anyone could work out. He talked about looking down on the city of Mosul during their transports and seeing explosions from random places. As he spoke, the disappointment from that night vanished.
Once again, he was in his element.
This year, I am beginning to understand.
The boy who didn’t want anyone to see him in his military uniform became a man defined by what that uniform meant.
He is ready to accept the recognition for his military service now because he is not just accepting it for himself alone. He is accepting it for the man who stood to his left and the one who stood to his right.
Now, when my husband mumbles under his breath, it is about how no one appreciates or understand the value of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He knows what others went through. He knows how his military service changed him and our marriage. He knows it has been worth it.
I have always believed it has been worth it, even in those early days when he was just my best friend and his military uniform was just a sign that he was going back to marching in formation and doing push-ups.
Even when he decided that the best move for our family was for him not to re-sign his contract, I believed his military service has been worth it.
Belief is not the same thing as honoring, however.
Now, that he is no longer serving in the military, it is important that I do not just put the military behind me. I need to honor his military service for who it made him and for who it made me.
In addition to being the wife of a former National Guard soldier, Tiffany is a mom to three (ages 11, 4, and 1), a public library assistant, follower of Christ, direct sales purchaser, freelance writer, daydreamer, book reader and coffee drinker in no particular order. You read more from Tiffany at her blog, Believing in Roses.